Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The State Ballet Theatre of Russia – Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. January 23, 2011.

Matthews Theatre, Princeton, New Jersey – Seat Front Balcony (EE18, $48).

Odette/Odile – Svetlana Noskova, Prince Siegfried – Alexander Lityagin, Rothbart – Ivan Alexeev.

Story. See prior post.

There was no conductor for this performance because the music is taped. The “Russia State Ballet” is actually The Voronezh State Theatre of Opera and Ballet” established in 1961. This is harsh reality running into the hype and consequent expectations.

The performance was sold out, and Anne and I didn’t have adjacent seat (close, though). The theatre is quite small and the staging was as complex as one can reasonably expect. Actually the small stage has an advantage: the effective can be mesmerizing when there are 24 swans on it at the same time – it seems the whole stage is covered with them.

It would be bad form to comment on taped music, nonetheless it sounded quite bad at times. Evidently one doesn’t need a conductor to put out a ballet performance.

Swan Lake is known for the pirouettes expected of Odile. Indeed we counted 33. The court jester didn’t do that badly either, he spun around about 25 times. Anne was looking at some YouTube clips of the ballet and remarked that some troupes do it much better.

I also notice Odette looked serious and sad all the time. At first I thought it was the dancer. But then as Odile she would smile. This is probably one of the contrasts called for by the ballet.

All criticism aside, I don’t mind going to this concert. We stopped by Tiger Noodles for dinner before we came home.

New York Philharmonic – Christoph von Dohnanyi, conductor; Radu Lupu, piano. January 23, 2011.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra 1 (Seat W5, $65).

Concerto No. 1 in D minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 83 (1858) by Brahms (1833-97).
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88 (1889) by Dvorak (1841-1904).

We attended this concert together with the Yangs. We drove into New York early so we could go to the boat show at Jacob Javits Center, where we spent about 90 minutes. There were many more people than expected: perhaps to get in from the cold (we have had a long cold spell in the area) or – dare one hope – the economy is turning around? In any case, we didn’t hear the bell ring once to indicate a sale, although there were a few boats with a sign “sold” attached to it. We had a simple dinner at Ollie’s before the concert.

My expectations were quite high after last week’s concert. Brahms’ first piano concerto was written about 20 years before his second, and the two have a great contrast in style. Radu Lupu is also a well-known pianist. We have heard him a few times and enjoyed his performances very much.

Given the high expectations, we were a bit disappointed at the overall concert. In general things seemed to be sloppier, muddled at times. Our seats were not that far away from the ones we had last week, but the piano didn’t sound nearly as crisp as it did then. The Symphony was okay, but I certainly won’t call it a great performance.

The Yangs sat in the second row and they were telling us how much Lupu and von Dohnanyi seemed to communicate with one another. Lupu used a chair which I don’t recall his using in prior performances: back problem, maybe? Also, Glen Dicterow showed up for the Symphony; he didn’t play at all last week.

The New York Times review is positive, but not as effusive as the one for last week. Per the reviewer, Lupu uses a chair all the time.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New York Philharmonic – Christoph von Dohnanyi, conductor; Yefim Bronfman, piano. January 16, 2011.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra 1 (Seat S101, $65).

Con brio, Concert Overture for Orchestra (2008) by Jorg Widman (b. 1973).
Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120 (1841/1851) by Schumann (1810-1856).
Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 83 (1878-81) by Brahms (1833-97).

This was our first concert for 2011, and I was kind of looking forward to it. The headline performers were certainly impressive enough: von Dohnanyi conducting, and Bronfman at the piano. It did not disappoint.

The first piece was written by a 37-year old German composer and clarinetist. The title “con brio” was definitely a tribute to Beethoven, and the program notes talk about how one could hear references to Beethoven’s various works, including several of his symphonies. However, “referring to” does not equate to “in the style of”, and the way the different instruments of the orchestra is used is definitely different than how Beethoven did it. I found the piece mildly interesting but ultimately disappointing. Trying to discern the references is the musical version of “where’s Waldo” and I didn’t care for that pictorial game very much either. There was a distinct Lenore Overture reference that I could hear, though.

The Schumann symphony was first composed in 1841, withdrawn, reworked, and republished about ten years later. These ten years turned out to be Schumann’s product symphony composition years. If there are problems with the orchestration, I couldn’t tell. The four movements are (i) Fairly slow – Lively; (ii) Romance: Fairly slow; (iii) Scherzo: Lively; and (iv) Slow – Lively – Faster – Presto. Even though it was supposed to be played without pause, the transitions were distinct enough that there was no doubt where they were. I wasn’t very familiar with the first two movements, but was very familiar with the last two. I don’t have the music in my collection, so it had to be listening to it over the radio over the years. Schumann seems to reuse his material a lot, but the overall music is simple yet delightful. The Concertmaster (Maples) had a good time playing the solo line (third movement). The line was not difficult, but she made a great sound.

We have seen Bronfman a few times; most recently at Princeton where he and Zukerman had a recital. This piece by Brahms certainly would be technically very difficult compared to the various sonatas he played at that recital. Somehow I misread the Program Notes and thought we were going to hear the first concerto. My confusion soon gave way to enjoyment of the initial calm passage. The four movements of the concerto are (i) Allegro non troppo; (ii) Allegro appassionato; (iii) Andante; and (iv) Allegretto grazioso. It is relatively long at about 50 minutes. In any case, we will be listening to the first concerto this coming Saturday, with Lupu playing.

To call Bronfman overweight is an understatement (someone has to say it), yet he is quite athletic in his movements. The playing was great, although he seemed to pound on the piano a bit more than necessary. The relatively short third movement has the solo cello playing most of the melody, often in the higher registers. I am amazed how accurate Carter Brey’s pitch was, but a bit disappointed at the sound of his instrument. Perhaps my misgivings about the sounds are due to our seat (Row S)? The audience couldn’t help themselves: they applauded after the first movement. This crowd does it quite often, and I am okay with it. Bronfman probably decided he would humor us by standing up and taking a slight bow, all in good fun. He did it again after the second movement. Good thing everyone decided not to play to game afterwards.

I was kind of hoping for an encore, but it wasn’t to be.

Anne had to go to Flushing in the morning and we met up at around 6 pm. I decided to drive in. The traffic was so light that it took less than an hour in either direction (about 50 minutes coming back). I guess this is the post-holiday quiet period.

The New York Times reviewer loved the concert.